Mark 2:1-17 Authority to forgive sin

Reading: Mark 2:1-17

Last week we read a miracle list that filled the last half of the first chapter of Mark. Mark chapter 2 also begins with a healing — but it is different — it is much longer, and it gives some information about Jesus that we rarely think about; where does Jesus call home, and what is it like when he goes home?

Capernaum is one of the three towns that Jesus might call home, the other two being his birthplace, Bethlehem, and Nazareth where he grew up. It was a small town by the sea of Galilee, with an economy dependent upon fish. The disciple Peter’s home was in Capernam, and there is a church build on the ruins of an ancient house that many believe Peter lived in.

Remember, I told you one of the things I love about Mark is that in Mark, Jesus seems the most human. Jesus just went on his first preaching tour, and what happens? Can Jesus take off his sandals, scratch his feet, and rest? No — people hear Jesus is home, and everybody starts banging at his door — his house fills up with people, and there are people outside listening to hear what He might say. The people who run to Jesus’ door are not just the common uneducated people, but even the scribes have come to hear Jesus teach.

Now, there is a whole crowd of people at Jesus’ home — the crowd is so big that you can’t even get there. Some people come hoping that Jesus can heal their friend, just like Jesus healed so many others while he was going on his preaching tour. They got to the house, and the house was full, and there was a crow of people pressed at the front door; so they bring their friend up onto the roof, make a hole in the roof and drop him down to Jesus.

What I’ve always found remarkable is that Jesus does not get angry for them destroying the roof. I’ve read that most likely this roof was of a kind that needed repaired very often; at least annually, or if it rains hard; most likely, it would be a flat roof sealed with sun-dried clay, so the roof would need re-sealed every time the clay cracked in the sun or the rain washed too much away — so, it is not quite as obnoxious as it sounds, but, you still wouldn’t be thrilled to see somebody digging a hole in your roof.

Anyways, this paralyzed man is lowered into the room, and Jesus says something different than what he had said in former chapters. Jesus says: “Your sins are forgiven.” He did not just heal the man, but told him that his sins were forgiven first. This is rather surprising, as this isn’t why the man came. The literate people talked among themselves complaining that Jesus couldn’t have any right to forgive sins, the Jesus proved he could by telling the man to get up and go home.

This makes me wonder why did Jesus need to publicly forgive the man’s sins before he was healed? It also makes me wonder why the educated scholars of the Torah really cared about his sins. Personally, I suffer the sinfulness of the powerful much more than I suffer the sinfulness of the powerless. I do know that in John’s gospel when Jesus healed the man who was born blind, he was asked who’s sin caused the man to be born blind. There is the idea that if somebody is suffering, it is a just punishment seems to be a repeated false idea. Job speaks against, Ecclesiastes and many of the Psalms speak against it, yet it is repeated again and again — even today. Whatever this man’s sin was, I am sure that it did not affect the lives of those who cared so much about Christ forgiving it.

After Jesus heals the paralyzed man, he goes to a Tax collector’s house, and eats with the guy’s colleagues and friends. Now, this is very much different than forgiving a man who didn’t have the ability to harm anybody; these Tax collectors were collaborators with the occupying Romans, thus traitors to the people of Judah, they were sinners of the worst kind — sinners who’s sinfulness clearly harmed everybody around them. The question comes — why does Jesus eat with sinners — even sinners of the worst kind; and Jesus responds: “Those who are well have no needs of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Mark 1:21-34 He speaks with authority

Reading: Mark 1:21-24

Our Sunday School lesson spoke of Jesus’ authority. When he taught, he taught with authority, not like the scribes; then it moves on to give a list of one healing after another; and next week we will talk about another healing. This passage has Jesus teaching in the temple, it has Jesus teaching the synagogues all over Galilee — but, like all of Mark, we don’t know what he is teaching, we know what he is doing and we know that when people hear Jesus, they are impressed.

The only thing Mark tells us about Jesus’ teaching is that the people were astounded, because he spoke with authority, and not like the scribes. It is difficult for me to guess what this means, and I don’t find even a hint what this might mean in Mark’s gospel — but if I check other sources I have enough to make a guess.

When I check the Talmud, I see the writings of many Rabbis; everybody cites an authority outside themselves — and while they might disagree with their peers, it is clear that they are interpreters, not authorities. if I look at examples of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew and Luke, I see phrases such as: “You have heard it said\… but I say to you.” In speaking like this, Jesus is establishing himself as enough of an authority that he can make a new statement. This power is very significant when he says thins such as: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Now, I know people will quote the first part of this to speak of revenge. I’ve even once heard somebody say: “An eye for an eye” when asked his favorite Bible passage. Of course, people who say “An eye for an eye” rarely have any desire to follow it. An eye for an Eye is found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy — this is the law of revenge stating that revenge is not to be punitive, but equal to the injury suffered. An eye for an eye condemns the great acts of revenge we are used to. Using this standard, we cannot justify killing hundreds of thousands to take revenge on the death of thousands. This is true, even though I’ve seen this verse used to justify exactly that.

Jesus, however, speaks with authority. The scribes are under the authority of the Torah — they can talk about what it means, but they cannot say these words: “But I say to you.” Jesus calls for forgiveness, instead of taking the allowed and measured vengeance. Jesus says, instead of taking the vengeance allowed by law, I tell you to forgive and take none at all. Jesus spoke with such authority that he was willing to offer an alternative instead of deferring to it. To quote John, Jesus spoke with authority, because he is the Word of God, made flesh.

As soon as people were shocked at Jesus speaking with authority, he started healing people. The first person he healed was right at the synagogue. The man was disruptive — he was, according to scripture, demon possessed. Now, these days Americans don’t use the words demon possessed very often; no, we use words such as mental illness. I can’t say whether demons were more active at that time than now, or whether we have come to a better knowledge of what is actually going on — I suspect that it is the second one though there are times when I look at a malicious kind of crazy, and I am nearly convinced that it is demonic. To tell the truth, if I had the power to cast out demons, and could see a disturbed and malicious man made whole again I would do it right now .  I do know I can pray to the One who demonstrated that he is the One who does miracles.

Following the healing man who was, in our current language, mentally ill  Jesus went to Simon’s house, healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever, and then healed “many who were sick and cast out demons; but he would not permit the demons to speak because they knew him.” He preached, and healed and preached and healed – and the section ends with him healing a man with leprosy — the most dreaded illness of his society — it was not only a death sentence, but it was an illness that would separate you from society the rest of your life. If one recovered, there was a process for being examined, declared in good health, and return to the community, but recover would take a miracle — of course, Jesus the divine healer and miracle worker healed him.

Mark tells of of a miracle worker who takes the place of John who has been arrested. We are not told what Jesus teaches and preaches beyond a few words: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the in the good news.” In these words, we have what is so dangerous, and yet what is such good news: God’s kingdom is near. I’m no miracle worker, but I can offer this good news as well. No matter how far the governments of the world seem from God — God’s kingdom is near. I believe that for us God’s kingdom is even here with us just as Christ is with us. One of the pious sayings I see on social media is the phrase: “It does not matter who is president because Jesus is Lord.” Now; I’m enough in this world to feel that it does matter, but there is something about this that rings true. Whether I’m in a nation full of people who honor God, from children to politicians; or if I find myself in ancient Rome during Nero’s reign, Jesus is Lord. The kingdom of God is at hand — it is so near I can reach out and grab it and make it part of my life. Nero was not strong enough to stop the mouths of Christians; for they reached out and grabbed the kingdom of God and proclaimed, even when it meant death: “Jesus is Lord.”

Mark 1:1-20

Reading:  Mark 1:1-20

I am glad to start our study of Mark. Mark was never my go-to gospel; I read Matthew or Luke and John. John was my favorite, because it is the most clear about who Jesus was. Matthew was my favorite to read about what Jesus taught — though, in reflection, this was purely personal preference — Luke had some favorite stories in it however. I didn’t really read Mark because Mark gives so few details; all but a few words of Mark are in Matthew, Luke, or both — and those things that are unique to Mark are things that I really don’t understand why they are there at all. To be fair I did not appreciate Mark until I head a storyteller recite it, in full.

As you might know, Mark is commonly considered to be the oldest gospel. Mark is thought to have been written down while Nero was persecuting Christians. There is some debate in among early Christian writers whether this is John Mark that we see in Acts, or if this is another Mark — but, either way, Mark is identified as a disciple of Peter.

First century Christian leader Papias is one of the few Christians who wrote at the same time the New Testament was being written; Papias was early enough that there were people around who actually saw Jesus — but late enough that it became clear that Jesus might not come back before they died. Mark was likely written about the same time that Papias was born, and the other three gospels would have been written in his lifetime. Papias was best known for writing a 5 volume work on the sayings of Jesus, which unfortunately is lost.

Papias tells us that John the Elder told him that Mark was Peter’s interpreter; and that Mark wrote down the story that Peter told from memory. John further told Papias that Mark related this accurately, and that he was careful not to omit or recall anything falsely.

This tradition tells us that Mark was a story that was told, and a story that was transmitted — it is, in its earliest form an oral Gospel. It is the story of Jesus, as related and remembered by Peter. This story starts when the name Jesus is first known — Jesus was shown to the world by John the Baptist. Peter’s story of Jesus starts maybe 6 weeks before he became a disciple.

Peter’s story starts with John the Baptist preaching the repentance of sin, and baptizing — and that one would come after him who would baptize with the holy spirit. Jesus then goes to the wilderness, then when John is arrested Jesus enters public ministry, stepping right into John the Baptist’s shoes.

One thing that I’ve learned is that the way somebody begins a story colors the whole story. The story Peter tells begins with John introducing Jesus — and right away, what happens? John is arrested for preaching. Now, if I read the other gospels, I learn that John is arrested because his preaching makes Herod look bad, and he’s also not too polite to the Pharisees; but listening to Mark alone I only get what is most important — details would make the story last longer! The detail is that John preaches that Jesus is coming, and is arrested; Jesus steps right into John’s place, and risks the same fate. Later in the story, Mark tells us that John is killed — Jesus risks that same fate.

This story of Jesus ends with Jesus crucified — but remember, in it’s earliest version, tradition tells us that Peter is telling this story; this story is not only the story of Jesus, but it is also the story of Peter. In Acts 2, the first apostle to speak about Jesus to the crowds is Peter, and in Acts 4, Peter is arrested for his preaching, and forbidden to speak of Jesus any more. John’s arrest not only prefigures what will happen to Jesus, but it also describes the beginning of Peter’s ministry, and the reality of the first Christians. The opening of this story reminds Christians that the world is not friendly and it has never been friendly. There is something about the gospel that those in power hope to silence. Peter does not tell us what this is during this story, he just tells the story.

I am growing to love Mark for what it is. Mark does not tell us what Jesus taught, it does not give us very many details about the story — but it does more than any other gospel get into the experiences that Jesus and the disciples had. From the beginning, we see that there is a danger to preaching this gospel. We see that Jesus is always on the move — everything feels like it happens so fast, and you can see in the story hints that Jesus and the disciples are tired. Mark has nothing subversive to say, yet the subtext is very subversive. From Jesus stepping into John’s place after John is arrested, to Jesus telling those who recognized him as something more than a prophet to keep silent, and not tell anybody; there is a sense that any moment, Jesus might be arrested or stoned. Mark is great because we know exactly what the cost of discipleship is from reading it. I don’t have the luxury of retreating into my mind — no, I march to the cross with Jesus.

Over time, I’ve come to accept that the gospel is that I’m invited to walk with Jesus — and, I have faith that if I walk with Jesus, I will end up where Jesus is — that the resurrection and final judgment will go well for me. Mark is a reminder that if I walk with Jesus, before this resurrection I might just have to end up at the cross. I don’t have the luxury to argue about how to interpret a certain teaching, or if it is a metaphor — I just have the knowledge that sometimes walking with Jesus is a march that ends at the cross. Peter knew this, and still followed Jesus to the very end of his life — and, tradition tells us that the end was that Nero had Peter crucified.

Luke 2:41-52 — Jesus grows up

Reading: Luke 2:41-52

One thing I’ve noticed is that if I want to sit down and read a biography of Jesus, there are a lot of questions that we really have no answers for. We know when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, by tradition — but, I cannot demonstrate that we chose the right date. While we can pretty solidly say that we know when Jesus died, and scripture tells us that Jesus started his ministry at 30, there is some debate about which year Jesus was born, some, such as the 2nd century Christian writer Irenaeus, feeling that because scripture only mentions 3 Passovers, Jesus’ ministry only lasted 3 years and others noticing that it seems odd to say to a 32 year old: “But you are not yet 50,” and taking that to mean that by that point he’d been in public ministry for well over a decade.

I know what the gospels look like if you edit them all into a single narrative, because Tatian also did this in the early 2nd century. Even if this were not done then; somebody would have created the unified narrative at some point; because as long as we’ve had the gospels, people have been talking about how they are the same, how they are different, and how our understanding of Christ can be informed by each one.

What I notice when reading such a unified narrative is that it is not what I expect from a biography — of course we use the term Gospel, good news, to describe these stories of Jesus. A biography and good news are something that are entirely different; so, when we want biographical details, we end up filling in missing details from these hints. When Irenaeus read the gospel, he made this application:

For He came to save all through means of Himself— all, I say, who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all.

Currently, there are few who currently believe that Jesus was over 50 when he was crucified, but this is a third generation Christian scholar. Even then, there was a range of views about how old Jesus was when he died, ranging from he died at 30, the same year he was baptized to the view that he was over 50 at the crucifixion. Irenaeus was born to Christian parents, and was taught by Polycarp, who was taught by the Apostle John. Irenaeus was one of the earliest theologians to offer a theory about how salvation works — that Jesus sanctified our humanity by being God while living as a human — and even then, some pretty significant biographical details were lost. Obviously, the year Jesus was born and the details of his childhood and education were not something that is vital to the gospel.

Now, I enjoy this sort of speculation, I engage in it from time to time — but, the point is that the gospels do not provide us with a dated itinerary.  We have a better knowledge of the end of Jesus’ life than first 30 years. I personally don’t subscribe to Jesus being 50 when he was crucified, but I think it is likely that his ministry covered more than the 3 Passovers mentioned in the gospels.

The story of Jesus getting lost at the temple is one of the places where my mind really starts writing biographical fiction; my speculation goes something like this:

After Jesus’ parents returned from Egypt and made a home in Nazareth, they made it a point to spend every Passover in Jerusalem. Once a year, they and everybody else in town who had that custom would spend 4 days walking to Jerusalem. Now, Joseph was a poor man; when he gave a sacrifice, it was the alternative for the poor, he was displaced having been a political refugee in Egypt, and then relocating to Galilee. Back even before the first Temple was built a tax was established — 10% was given so that the public could celebrate. Without this tax, there would be no way that such a large community could move down the road, and that even the poor could celebrate Passover in Jerusalem — but it is possible, and this was the greatest celebration of the year — the celebration of the people of Israel becoming a free people.

Passover marks the beginning of the year — this was Jesus’ last Passover as a child. Soon it would be time for Jesus to be apprenticed in the trade that he would be in for the rest of his life — at the moment it seems likely that he would formally be apprenticed by his father and become a carpenter.

Something unexpected happened in Jerusalem; Jesus was noticed. Jesus got into a conversation about Torah with some adults, and it turned out that they found the thoughts of this child were remarkable. He got lost in discussion and study, and the group from Nazareth left without him — unfortunately this meant when Mary and Joseph realized he was not with the group, they had to turn around and go back and find him.

When they found him, they found him with the teachers, they called him back because it was past time to go home. The journey would be extra hard for them, because they would need to either make up for lost time, or they would need to travel alone. Mary and Joseph scolded Jesus for this, but he answered: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house.”

I imagine that this trip changed everything. Jesus was noticed. Jesus asserted his identity as somebody other than a Carpenter’s son. The best we can do following the gospels is a scene change that reads: 18 years later and jump’s to the Baptism of Jesus — but, we still have some hints; Jesus didn’t make a major public appearance until he was about 30, and when he was addressed, he was addressed as Rabbi.

If I were to translate Rabbi into English, Teacher would be accurate enough, Great one would be more literal, but I think I would do better to translate it “Doctor.” When we see this term used, we see it used to refer to leaders, and teachers, and great scholars. In order to understand what this word means, we have to know where it came from.

The Babylonian wise men were given the title “Rab” (great) — these were the leaders who had gone on to become teachers. The Sanhedrin borrowed this term, and gave the term Rabbi to those scholars who were recognized as being authorities in the law and prophets, able to teach and to judge according to Torah Law. When Jesus was called Rabbi, it meant something — and I suggest that it meant that 12 year old Jesus was discovered by the scholarly elite, and somebody sponsored him, and made him a student of the law. The 18 or so years between 12 and “about 30″ were likely spent in study, until the Sanhedrin were sure they could recognize his ability to teach and to judge.

I don’t know if I am right — but, if Jesus was not trained in the law as a scholar and a judge, then Rabbi was used ironically — and who knows Ph.D.’s to call somebody without credential’s “Doctor?” In general, people like to think that the honors they achieve mean something, and using a title that was not earned in an ironic sense does not help that thinking. Even in the sense of an honorary degree, one lists that in the resume as a reward and not a credential — and, the person who earned an honorary doctorate is not called Doctor.

So, in my imagination, this little moment at 12 years old could be a crisis point in a biography, instead of an isolated story. Maybe this moment set everything else into motion. The truth is that we see only a little bit of the story, and unfortunately attempts to write the biography of Jesus where we fill in the details ends up with us speculating about teenage Jesus arguing with the sons of the Pharisees, so we are left with “18 years later” and a scene change.

What we do know is just before Jesus became an adult, he impressed the religious leaders and scholars, he lost track of time, and he asserted his identity as something other than the son of a Carpenter. We know that when Jesus left his childhood, he had at least a little bit of an understanding that his life was something other than the life of a Jewish peasant in a Roman province. I don’t know what happened when they got home, all I see is 18 years later — but, it is something that sparks my curiosity.

Luke 2:21-40 — Signs and Prophecies

One thing I enjoy about the prologue of Luke is how much it reminds me of the Old Testament. Luke begins with births that are announced by angels, two women getting pregnant who shouldn’t, and two men destined for great things. Luke begins with the promise of restoration that has been with Hebrew people since the Babylonian captivity. Not only is there the promise of restoration, but there is a kind of good news for the poor that makes Shepherds into the first prophets to announce Christ. Luke tells the story in such a way that we are reminded of Abraham and Sarah — and the birth of Isaac; we are reminded of Hannah and the birth of the prophet Samuel, and Manoah and the birth of Sampson. The prologue makes it clear that this Jesus fellow is going to be somebody who changes everything.

Today is the day that Catholics celebrate the “Feast of the Holy name,” which used to be called the “feast of the circumcision.” On January 1, the eighth day of Christmas, Catholics observe what is written in Luke 2:21: “After 8 days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

It is at this point that we meet to prophets, Simeon and Anna. Simeon received God’s promise that he would live to see the messiah — and he identified Jesus as this Messiah, and he made a prediction of the child’s life to the parents. It must have been rather shocking to see an old man take the baby and say: “God, I can die now, because I’ve seen the salvation of all, and Your revelation to the gentiles.” It must have been somewhat difficult for Mary to listen to him prophecy that Jesus would show the truth about people, causing many to fall — that His sign would be opposed, and that Mary’s soul would be pierced. After Simon, we meet the prophet 84 year old prophet Anna who praised God and spoke to everybody who was looking for the redemption of Israel about the child.

The first few chapters of Luke are absolutely amazing. Angels appear to Mary, her cousin Elizabeth, and to shepherds. Elizabeth, a woman thought to be barren becomes pregnant with a child that is prophesied by an angel — and, as a further sign, the child’s father becomes mute until the child is born. This child, who is to be named John, recognizes Jesus even before he is born.

While Luke does not go through the history of Israel, it does give Anna’s age. At 84 years old, the prophet Anna would have seen quite a bit. When she was born, Israel was an independent kingdom, ruled by a priest-king. Hanukkah was a celebration of the retaking and re-dedication of the temple, however these events lead to driving out the Greeks and becoming an independent kingdom. This independent kingdom fell apart as Judah fell into a civil war over which brother would sit on the throne next in 63 AD. Not surprisingly, one of the brothers asked Rome for help, and Judah became a client-state to Rome. As her life continued, she saw Rome replace the Priest-king with Herod the Great, and saw Herod kill the whole family, except for a princess that he married; and then she’d see Herod making a great effort to complete and expand the temple, so that it would be as great as the first temple… and she would see Jerusalem become something much greater than it was when she was a girl, although it would be ruled by foreigners.
While Luke dose not tell us when she was married, it tells us that she was married 7 years before her husband died, and she lived as a widow. Considering her age, it is very possible that she became a widow about the time that Judah lost it’s status as an independent state. Rome attacked and conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC — and it is easy to imagine that the prophet Anna was a war-widow.

This woman was not only a prophet, but she was a person who saw a couple brothers destroy the nation due to their own sibling rivalry. She watched the great leaders, who represented not only the government, but God’s will — and who’s line seemed to be established by God, destroy the nation. She watched as the person who made Jerusalem great, and the Temple a worthy structure was also cruel, petty, murderous, and insecure in his position — perhaps this is partially because Herod was an Edomite from a God-fearing family — who was only made king to reward his loyalty to Rome in a past war. Remember in Matthew, we see Herod slaughtering all the infants in Bethlehem: maybe 20 babies, because one of these babies was from David’s line, and called “king” by the magi — Herod also killed the dynasty that ruled before him, and even his adult children when he felt threatened because they had a better claim to the throne than he did due to their mother being a princess.

Whatever the reason, this woman had seen quite a bit: independence, civil war, occupation, and petty tyranny. When Jesus came to the temple, Anna recognized him as being something great and new, she saw him as being the redemption of Jerusalem. It is clear she saw that Jerusalem needed more than to be a great city, with a beautiful temple.

This is what is great about the “prologue” of Luke — it gives us a lot of hints about what is needed in the new Messiah. Many are looking for a new king that will drive out the Romans, and by extension drive out the current local government that collaborates with Rome — but the truth is that there were people alive who saw what happens with political Messiah’s — they die, and things change. Jesus did not come to save the government, but to bring salvation to the people. He did not come to bring good news to those who would become the new elite at the expense of the old elite, but instead to bring good news to the poor. The truth of the gospel is found in the name Jesus — which, is how Joshua comes back to us when it goes through the Greek language first; God is our salvation.

Jeremiah 29:1-14: Pray for Babylon

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1-14

Last week I spoke on Psalm 146, and talked to everybody who had hope that they might get their way in the election. Needless to say, I had no idea who would win; but what I said last week still matter. There were no saviors on our ballot, and we don’t need a political savior. I also reminded everybody that the United States has some dark points in our history, and that we have survived these dark times with our nation in tact. Whatever prophecies of gloom we might have seen are likely exaggerations.

This week, I want to talk to those of you who are disappointed in the outcome of the election. I planned to give this message before knowing the outcome of the election. I have decided on the text before I cast my ballot. The thing is about this election is that we elected a man who is opposed by 2/3 of our population. Only 1/4 of registered voters marked “Donald Trump” on their ballots, and it is difficult to say how many of these made this choice with disgust, knowing that if they didn’t Hillary Clinton might win.

The thing is, if the election turned out differently, I could have swapped names and it would have still been true. This is a truly odd election year where both major parties chose candidates who have disapproval ratings above 60%. There were a large number of people on both sides who held their nose while making a choice. In the end I knew that no matter who won, a large number of people would be disappointed in the results, and I know that any Christian leader who is honest will not be able to say we have a great ally in the White House.

I won’t list our next President’s personal problems;  I will simply pray that these do not become an issue in his presidency, I will however tell you about one of our nation’s personal problems: people have differing views on what it means that Trump won the presidency. Some voted because of Trump’s short list for the vacant Supreme court seat. Some voted Trump, or didn’t vote Hillary because he spoke to the concerns of Labor, often in a way that is at odds with the Republicans in congress. Some voted for Trump, because they felt he represented the values of White Nationalists. This last one, the KKK vote is very much a personal problem in our nation. I’m not going to say that it is a huge population, but unfortunately, these people assume that the election of Trump means that real Americans think like the KKK; similarly unfortunate are Trumps opponents who often think the same thing making real conversation and compromise impossible.

This issue has lead to problems which, if you remember started before the election. Unfortunately, some of our racist minority have taken it on themselves to vandalize places of worship, harass and threaten people, there has also been some reports of physical assault. There has been some of that here, and some people close to me have been harassed because of their skin tone in the days since the election. On the other side, there were significant protests against the election results in various cities. USA Today describes these protests as “mostly peaceful”, but it also told about the dozens of protesters who were not, and had to be arrested. I find it disturbing that I live in a world where acts of violence and vandalism are carried out both by those who feel the election validated their views, and by those who are deeply opposed to the winning candidate. This is not not the way Americans act at elections time: no, to quote Hillary Clinton: “Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power, and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.”

My point is, no matter how you voted, there is a good chance that this nation feels different than the America you know and love. I know that it feels different to me. I know it feels different to a lot of people. In general, we love our country, we are proud of our country, and we believe our land to be one of ideals, principles, and hope. We do not expect violence on election day, nor do we expect violence following election day. Today many live in fear: Some live in fear because they are minorities who are targets of anti-minority violence and harassment. Others live in fear because we are facing people who set things on fire hoping somebody will change what has already been decided. No matter what side you are on, the fear that somebody will decide to contest the ballots with bullets is very real.

To be honest, I had to admit long ago that Paul was right when he wrote to the Philippians saying: “Our citizenship in in Heaven.” We are resident aliens of this kingdom of earth. Christianity is far too important, and far too enduring to be co-opted for a political agenda. The truth is, Christ and Paul have nothing to say on how a government should be run; the message in our Bible is a message of how to live in a nation with a different basis for justice than we have and one that was at times hostile to Christians. As Christians, we are truly in our traditional element when we have a message that invites people to be better than the world they live in. What is happening is less than idea, and I miss the nation I remember but I get to look to scripture to help me know what to do. Now, how do we live in such a world?

I personally take the advice that Jeremiah offered to the exiles in Babylon to heart. I admit that there really is no way out of the reality we live it; there is not a political messiah coming that will restore Christianity to America through politics, and we will spend our lifetime living in a secular nation that, whether good or bad, will never really embrace our faith or our values.

Jeremiah’s advice to those who had no choice but to live in Babylon was to live in it. They were to have children, make a home, work, and live a generally normal life. They were not called to overthrow the actually hostile government, but instead to pray for the government and for the prosperity of the city of Babylon. When Jeremiah told the Jews God’s plan was to prosper them, he meant God wanted to prosper them in Babylon.

Here is the thing I learn reading scripture. No matter what we think of our government, our role remains the same:  live the best lives we can. We need to be a blessing to our neighbors, do right by our families, and work for not only our well being but the well being of our neighbors — even the neighbors we disagree with. Jeremiah didn’t call for a revolution, or a fight to win freedom, he called for assimilation and for people to live normal mundane lives that made the world just a little better because they are in it. We love stories of heroes who do great things  but most of us are not heroes, and the accomplishments of normal people are greater than the accomplishments of great leaders. Jesus called us to be salt and light and we are that simply by living the way Jesus taught us;  by making love the rule of our lives. No matter what we think of our nation, it is not right to set it on fire, or hope that our leaders fail. The truth is, we are all in the same boat, so no matter what we think of the Captain.  We want to get to port without sinking. Remember as the nation we live in prospers, we also prosper.

I know none of this is new to you, but I’m going to invite all of you to do one thing that the Jews were told to do for Babylon to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city to pray that it be well governed. If you see our president, or the next one as being Nebuchadnezzar, so be it, but we are still commanded to pray and to work for the good of the place we live in.

Like the results of the election — our first response is clear, so let us respond: let us pray:

  • For the peace and prosperity of the United States, let us pray to the Lord
  • For President Barack Obama, and his successor Donald Trump, let us pray to the Lord
  • For our congressmen and judges, let us pray to the Lord
  • For the peace and prosperity of Indiana, let us pray to the Lord
  • For Governor Mike Pence, and his successor Eric Holcomb, let us pray to the Lord
  • For the peace and prosperity of Henry County and Knightstown, let us pray to the Lord
  • For the County commission and city council, let us pray to the Lord
  • For our policemen and firefighters, let us pray to the Lord
  • For our schools and our educators, let us pray to the Lord
  • For those who serve our community, let us pray to the Lord
  • For the poor and sick in our community, let us pray to the Lord
  • For Raysville Friends church, let us pray to the Lord

Psalm 146: Do not put your faith in presidents

Reading: Psalm 146

I am going to start this message with a public service announcement. I know that our presidential candidates are not likely to bring people to the polls — and I know that this year, Indiana isn’t exactly a swing state, but remember this year is an important election year. The governor’s race is competitive; and in my experience what the State government does is more important in my daily life than what the federal government does. In federal elections, the Senate race is nearly tied the last time I looked at the polls. Not only is the Senate race here competitive, but our vote may very well determine which party controls the Senate: For those who care about federal appointments such as the supreme court, the vote for Senator is more important here in Indiana than the vote for president. Nothing is a sure thing this year, the decision will be made according to who shows up to vote — So, remember to vote Tuesday — polls are open from 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM.

Of course, I also want to remind you that while elections are important, there is no candidate on the ballot that is able to save our nation. I also want to remind you that there is also no candidate that is so terrible that our nation cannot survive his or her election. I’ve heard people on both sides suggest that if the wrong person wins, it will be the end of our nation; I personally think this is unlikely. Even more shockingly, when I was reading an article in Charisma, I read an op-ed by a “prophet” who said that Donald Trump is anointed to be president by God.  (Of course, he also said God told him Cleveland would win the World Series because Chicago votes Democrat, so I really cannot take him seriously.)  I can assure you there is no messiah on the ballot — and, anyone looking for a messiah in a political election has just created their own personal anti-Christ. If you need clarification the prefix anti does not always mean against — sometimes it means an alternative. An example of this is in church history there have been anti-popes. What this means is that more than one pope was elected, and when we name which election is legitimate, the others stand as alternatives. Jesus Christ is our legitimate messiah, so when somebody calls for another one that is to me, in this sense, an antichrist.

Of course, my point is that when we look a mortal to be our Savior, we are looking in the wrong place. As important as things like elections are, there are much more important things. No matter who our governor is, and no matter who our president is — we still choose for ourselves how we act towards our neighbors. No matter who is in office, they can neither force people to be good neighbors, nor can they stop them from being good neighbors. The most important thing that determines the peace and prosperity of the nation is the those who live in the nation. The salvation that our nation needs will never be legislated, it must come by changing the hearts and minds of the people in the nation. We don’t need a perfect government — we need widespread repentance. I need Jesus, you need Jesus — our nation needs Jesus.

Now, no matter how bad things look — I know this isn’t exactly a religious thing to say, but historically the United States has been a robust nation. We have had bad presidents before, and we have survived those who truly did abuse their power. People who debate which living president was the worst president our nation ever had are missing a history that included a number of shocking actions by presidents — and, the nation survived every one of them. I will give a few examples of terrible presidents.

Our second president, John Adams completely ignored the text of the First Amendment, taking away the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press by criminalizing statements that were critical of his government. This law was used to imprison congressmen who belonged to the opposing party, and to fine or imprison editors who supported his political opponent Thomas Jefferson. One of Jefferson’s acts as president was to pardon everybody who was arrested under the Sedition acts.

Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson was the leader of what should be called the most successful genocide of the 19th century. Jackson significantly reduced Native American land, and had the people removed. Jackson was famously responsible for the trail of tears, but we shouldn’t forget that the policy of removal included “gifts” of blankets and clothing worn by those who died of smallpox, and in many cases sending the military to kill every man woman and child. I know that many people dislike it when the Genocide word is used about a population within the bounds of the United States — but simple trip to Mexico or Central America shows us a visible difference between a land that was brutally colonized, and a land where the native population was removed.

The 17th president of the United States, Andrew Johnson, was a truly dreadful president; he was impeached for his political positions. You might remember, the 16th President was Abraham Lincoln. For Lincoln’s second term, he ran under the National Union party, and chose a Southern Democrat for his running mate; hoping that this would help the restoration of the Union. Unfortunately, this meant that when Lincoln was assassinated, the person who replaced him was far from Lincoln’s policies.

Congress was overwhelmingly dominated by Republicans at this point — as in, Republicans controlled enough seats to amend the constitution and override vetoes. All Johnson could do is delay what was already set in motion. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments are called the civil war amendments. The 13th amendment made slavery unconstitutional, and is currently used to justify laws against human trafficking. The 14th amendment made it so that we no longer had large groups of stateless peoples living within the boundaries of the United States. The 14th amendment made it so representatives are based on the number of residents within the state, and that anybody born within the boundaries of the United States is a citizen, with all rights that belong to citizens, including the right to vote. At the time the 14th amendment was passed, we had two significant stateless people — the Native Americans, and the freed slaves. There are large numbers of people who’s citizenship and rights are dependent on this amendment. The 15th Amendment guarantees that voting is not limited by race, color, or prior status as a slave.

Johnson spend his presidency attempting to violate these new amendments of the constitution, and to keep them from being enforced — he literally spent his presidency fighting against the Constitution. When Justice meant making sure that freed slaves were given the rights they were promised, Johnson did everything he could do to obstruct justice — even firing federal workers who would follow and enforce the law to replace them with people who would not. While “Jim Crow” was not able to establish itself under Johnson’s presidency, it was as close to a legacy as he could have.

I know that people suggest that our nation, or the constitution cannot survive the wrong person being elected; I understand the fear behind these statements too. When I remember history, I realize that even though we have had presidents who behaved in an evil or criminal manner — presidents who actively opposed the constitution, both our nation and the constitution survived their presidency. No matter what bad things you might say about our candidates — I don’t believe either of them will be so evil as we’ve seen in the past. I don’t personally anticipate that we will elect a president who jails newspaper editors and members of congress who belong to the opposing party for  criticizing the President, nor do I expect the US government to actively commit genocide again. Yes, people have valid concerns — trust is low, and our government needs to work hard to earn back trust in nearly every demographic — but, there is no reason to think it is the end of the world.

There are no saviors on our ballot — there cannot be. We already have a savior, so don’t look to politicians for our salvation. Also know that it takes more than a bad president to destroy our nation and whatever good principles are part of our nation. There are over 300 million people, 50 states, over 3000 counties. Our courts have over 2 centuries of precedent to consider as they interpret our complex legal system. We imagine individuals having far more power than what they have, especially since ultimately most politics are local.

I guess what I want to say is don’t be afraid — first, because when we think about it, anxiety over an election is a terrible waste of creativity and imagination, but more importantly because the things so many people worry about shows a lack of faith in God. America survived president’s Adams, Jackson, and Johnson. Christianity survived Nero and countless other persecutors. The Soviet Union always had more Christians  than communists. I hear people suggest that our government can destroy Christianity — but, no government has done that. God is too strong to be defeated by a government.

Everybody, go vote; Make the best decision you can, but remember, no matter who wins Christ is our true hope for salvation. With God’s help our ancestors have already survived worse than anything this election will bring.